TIME archeology

Here’s What a 55,000-Year-Old Skull Teaches Us About Human Migration

Ancient Skull
This undated photo provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Jan. 27, 2015, shows a partial human skull excavated from a cave in Israel's western Galilee region Clara Amit—AP

The rare bone find is the first to connect humans in Africa and Europe

Part of a female human skull, found in a cave in Israel and believed to be around 55,000 years old, is giving researchers clues as to when humans migrated out of Africa, leading to the eventual colonization of Europe.

The partial skull, found in Manot Cave in western Galilea, is the first recorded instance of modern humans being in the Levant region during that time period, archeologists claim in the journal Nature. These early people may have been the first to pass through the region on their way to cooler latitudes.

“It’s amazing. This is the first specimen we have that connects Africa to Europe,” said Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University.

Neanderthal remains have previously been found in locations close to Manot Cave, dating between 50,000 and 65,000 years of age, so that places the two species in the same place at the same time.

Non-African humans have a tiny bit of Neanderthal DNA and studies suggest the mix happened 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.

Scientists say the new discovery offers the possibility that a spell of interbreeding between Neanderthals and early humans occurred at this time and in this region.

[Nature]

TIME discoveries

Bizarre Creatures Found Living Under Half a Mile of Ice

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The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica Getty Images

A National Science Foundation-funded expedition to the Antarctic has unearthed a surprising result: There are fish who live without sunlight under almost half a mile of ice in 28-degree water.

Scientists had never before sampled the Whillans Ice Stream, a river of ice between the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Ross Ice Shelf. The drilling mission, which began on Jan. 8, aimed to better understand climate change by recovering sediment and seawater samples for examination. A small, remotely operated vehicle would peruse the ocean floor and photograph rocks and whatever microbial life might be there. They expected little, because of the water’s extreme distance from sunlight (a major nutrient for underwater environments) and its clarity, which suggests an absence of food sources.

But the vehicle wound up attracting 20 to 30 fish, with other crustaceans as well. Researchers don’t yet know how the ecosystem functions, but they’re hopeful that the fish’s survival under such harsh conditions holds broader clues.

[Scientific American]

TIME Travel

Tourists’ Trash Caused the Oddly-Colored Geysers at Yellowstone, Study Finds

Morning glory
Morning Glory Pool at Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park Lodges

Tourist damage is not new for the beloved national park

For anyone who’s visited visited Yellowstone, our nation’s first national park, and marveled at the the vibrant hues of its hot springs—indigos, vermillions, and chartreuses—there’s evidence to suggest that the park’s technicolor spectacle is actually the result of tourist trash—tossed pennies, trash, and random objects.

A recent study conducted by the University in Montana and Germany’s Brandenburg University of Applied Sciences has determined that the thermal springs used to be a deep blue, but vandalism, especially to the Morning Glory Pool, has resulted in a rainbow of colors. And there’s no telling yet the true toll this abuse.

Tourist damage is not new: After WWII in 1947, a park geologist removed 55 wheelbarrows of debris from Yellowstone’s geysers and springs.

With the study’s findings as hard evidence, the national park system can begin an education campaign for visitors to help preserve some of our most precious—and fragile—national treasures. So next time you’re at Yellowstone (or any other park) and want to make a wish by tossing a coin into its gorgeous geysers, save it and donate to the U.S. National Parks Service instead.

This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.

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TIME nature

Rock Stars: See Historic Climbing Moments on Yosemite’s El Capitan

The impossible has just been achieved

On Jan. 14, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, two American climbers, scaled the fabled Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park using just hands and feet. The façade, located on the southeast side of the massive El Capitan rock formation, was widely considered an impossible climb without the help of ropes. Caldwell and Jorgeson’s story builds upon decades of record-breaking (and bone-breaking) climbs on El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley. Above are some of the trailblazers who paved the way for their success.

Two of those featured are Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy), who over nearly 27 days in 1970 became the first to scale the Dawn Wall, though using ropes and rivets. In the video below, co-directors Nick Rosen and Peter Mortimer share with TIME an exclusive clip from the award-winning documentary Valley Uprising, which shows Harding and Caldwell’s infamous 1970 ascent. The film, which will be available on Vimeo starting Jan. 15, documents the epic stories of the men and women who have made history conquering El Capitan over the past 50 years.

Read next: This week’s TIME magazine article, Man vs. Yosemite

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME animals

Marine Biologists Capture Rare Photo of a Shark Birth

Scientists noticed a visibly "agitated" shark off of the Philippines coastline

Marine biologists say they’ve never seen anything like it: Possibly the first known snapshot of an elusive species of shark giving birth in the open ocean.

The image, which was published in the December issue of the journal Coral Reefs, was captured off of the Philippines coastline in 2013. Scientists there, during a routine reef survey, noticed a “visibly” agitated thresher shark swimming nearby, trailed by several cleaner fish pecking at its pelvic region. One marine photographer snapped a photo, which later revealed the cause of the shark’s agitation: The head of a newborn pup jutting out head-first from the shark’s body.

“I freaked out,” study author Simon Arthur told BBC News, adding that it was the first image of a shark birth he had encountered in his career.

TIME Infectious Disease

New Antibiotic Could Help Fight ‘Superbugs’ of the Future

Teixobactin successfully treated mice with MRSA

Scientists have discovered a new antibiotic that may help turn the tide against the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs”.

By using a method that grows bacteria in its native dirt rather than a lab dish, researchers from Northeastern University in Boston were able to identify a new, promising antibiotic called teixobactin, Nature reports.

When the researchers tested teixobactin in mice infected with the bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—which causes infections in humans—they reacted favorably and cleared the infection. What’s especially exciting about teixobactin is that the bacteria tested so far has not displayed resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is becoming an increasingly problematic public health burden with antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing at least 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths in the United States each year. A December report warned that superbugs, or bacteria resistant to antibiotics, could kill as many as 10 million people a year by 2050.

MORE: Health Workers See Promise in Software to Tackle Drug-Resistant Bacteria

The study’s authors speculate that teixobactin isn’t as resistant as other antiobiotics because it uses a different mode to attack bacteria, that appears to make resistance less likely.

The scientists came across over 20 drug candidates, but teixobactin looks to be the most promising. While it’s not impossible for teixobactin to cause resistance, the researchers conclude that it seems less susceptible. For now it requires further testing to assess its potential for clinical use.

TIME nature

Minnesota Man Fights Off 525-Pound Bear With a 5-Inch Knife

Asian black bear standing in the forest (Ursus thibetanus)
Asian black bear standing in the forest (Ursus thibetanus) I.JESKE—De Agostini/Getty Images

"It's just going to town on my hand and I just keep stabbing"

A Minnesotan hunter claims to have survived a bear attack by fending off the 525-pound animal with a 5-inch knife.

Brandon Johnson told USA Today that he was tracking a black bear that his friend had shot in a densely forested hunting ground earlier in the day. It was nightfall by the time the bear had caught Johnson off guard. The bear charged, knocking him unconscious. But Johnson awoke moments later and fought back with his hunting knife, he said.

“It’s just going to town on my hand and I just keep stabbing it and stabbing it and stabbing away and I am screaming and yelling,” Johnson told USA Today.

The bear left and charged him on three separate occasions, until Johnson says he stabbed the knife into its open mouth.

He survived with extensive injuries and a slew of medical bills. His friends have set up a fundraising website with the goal of raising $10,000 to help defray the costs.

Read more at USA Today.

 

TIME Environment

The Real Wilderness of Wild: A Brief History of the Pacific Crest Trail

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Hikers cross Agnew Meadows on the Pacific Crest Trail in California. Danita Delimont — Getty Images/Gallo Images

The path that Reese Witherspoon walks in her latest film took 60 years to become a reality

Wild, a film based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, in theaters Dec. 5, tells the tale of a woman wandering over more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. And that means one of star Reese Witherspoon’s most important co-stars is the trail itself.

Today there are more than 1,000 official national trails that sprawl across America like a nervous system. But in the beginning there were just two: the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. The latter, spanning about 2,650 miles of America’s West Coast, from Mexico to Canada, was the dream of a fellow named Clinton Clarke. In 1932, the avid hiker formally proposed a border-to-border trail connecting the peaks of the Pacific Coast, to preserve and protect America’s “absolute wilderness” before it was overrun by “motor cars” and industry.

“In few regions of the world—certainly nowhere else in the United States,” he later wrote in 1945, “are found such a varied and priceless collection of the sculptured masterpieces of Nature as adorn, strung like pearls, the mountain ranges of Washington, Oregon and California.” The Pacific Crest Trail, he said, “is the cord that binds this necklace.”

Clarke’s hero, and cause, was the explorer who would pitch his or her tent in the mountains night after night, desperate to hear the snowfall and see nothing brighter than the stars, seeking a “simpler and more natural life.” He believed that the “PCT” wasn’t just some track of dirt, but a means of forging “sturdy bodies,” “sound minds,” “permanent endurance,” “moral stamina” and “patriotic citizenship.” (As if it needed to be mentioned, Clarke was a dedicated Boy Scout.)

Clarke wasn’t the only person to dream of such a trail, but he was the most organized. To further the cause, he put together a whole federation of hiking clubs and youth groups dedicated to the project, known the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference. For years, he oversaw the massive task of scouting and constructing a route through the wilderness, connecting existing trails by building new ones, all while avoiding as much settled area as possible. Clarke served as the president of the conference for 25 years, which included big-name members like the Sierra Club, YMCA and photographer Ansel Adams. For this, he earned his place in history as the “father” of the trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail officially became the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in 1968, 11 years after Clarke died at the age of 84. The popularity of hiking had been growing and, as of 1963, America had a President and First Lady who were very interested in preserving the outdoors: Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. Johnson proposed the study of a national system of trails, which would give the federal government a way to establish and oversee footpaths that weren’t on federal land. The volunteers who oversaw the Appalachian Trail were anxious for that kind of mandate, worried that handshake agreements allowing hikers to pass through private lands might otherwise dry up.

People like the Department of the Interior’s Daniel M. Ogden, who recounts the political battle for establishing a national system of trails in a 40th anniversary newsletter, pushed Congress to pass a bill based on the study Johnson requested. And Oct. 2, 1968, Johnson signed a “conservation grand slam” of four environmental measures: the National Trails System Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Redwood National Park Act, and the North Cascades National Park Act. The only two national scenic trails at the time, which require an act of Congress to be designated, were the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest.

By 1972, a council created by the government had come up with a final route for the trail that Clarke had imagined 40 years earlier. After years of construction and negotiation with private property owners, the trail was completed in 1993 with a “golden spike” ceremony reminiscent of the transcontinental railroad. That was also the year that the non-profit Pacific Crest Trail Association forged a partnership with the federal government to oversee and keep up the trail.

Many people have since completed the whole-hog, end-to-end trek. Others, like Cheryl Strayed, have settled for three-month, 1,100-mile adventures. So long as the hikers come out a little different on the other side, they should all be satisfying Clarke’s wish for what the trail would be. “It is simply a ‘track worn through the wilderness,'” he wrote in 1945, “for hardy adventurers who can enjoy the experience and benefits of a friendly struggle with Mother Nature.”

TIME space

All That Glitters: 15 Breathtaking Photos of Meteor Showers

Geminids and Leonids and Perseids, oh my!

Not all meteor showers are created equal. Some are cosmic nor’easters; some are mere drizzles. This year’s edition of the Leonid meteor shower, beginning Nov. 17, will, alas, be more of the latter—and there’s a simple cosmic explanation for that.

The annual sky show is the work of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which makes a single loop through the solar system once every 33.5 years, leaving a trail of dust and other debris in its path. Once a year, Earth moves through that wake, and the cometary bits streaking through the atmosphere are what we see as a meteor shower. When the comet passed by recently, the debris trail is denser and the fireworks are greater.

That was the case in 1966, when tens of thousands of meteors rained down per hour. Things were a little spottier, but still still pretty exciting from 1999 to 2002, when there were thousands of flashes every hour. And now? Expect no more than 10 to 15, since Tempel-Tuttle is at its greatest distance from the sun—about 1.8 billion mi (2.9 billion km) away.

Still, if you’ll take whatever meteors you can get, peak viewing times in North America will be from midnight to dawn on the nights of Nov. 17 and Nov. 18. Look in the direction of the constellation Leo—which is how the shower got its name. A NASA livestream, beginning at 7:30 PM EST on the 17th will also be tracking things as they happen—or in this quiet year, kind of don’t happen.

TIME Autism

Major Autism Studies Identify Dozens of Contributing Genes

Researchers collaborate on two large studies identifying the genetic basis of autism

Two new studies exploring the genetic basis of autism tie mutations in hundreds of genes to the disease.

Several teams of researchers collaborated on the studies, both published in the journal Nature, and found that about 60 of the genes are considered “high confidence,” meaning there’s a 90% chance that mutations within those genes contribute to risk for autism. Both studies show through genomic sequencing that many of these mutations are de novo, meaning that parents do not have the gene mutation, but they present spontaneously just before a child is conceived in either the sperm or egg.

It’s long been believed that autism is genetic, but a lack of large studies and advanced genomic sequencing has precluded any sort of consensus about what genes might be at play. But in the last couple years, scientists have been able to look at the genetic mutations in hundreds of people with autism and identify genes that likely factor into a child’s development of the disorder. In the two new studies, scientists were able to expand their work and look at thousands of people.

In one of the studies, several institutions used data from the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC), which is a collection of DNA samples from 3,000 families. In each of the families, one individual had autism. The researchers compared the gene sequences of the individual with autism to their unaffected family members. After analysis, they estimated that de novo mutations contribute to autism in at least 27% of families, where only one member has the disorder.

The other study, by researchers at 37 different institutions as part of the Autism Sequencing Consortium, looked at 14,000 DNA samples of parents with affected children. It found 33 genes the researchers say definitely increase risk for autism, should there be a mutation.

Even though there may be hundreds or even thousands of genes that contribute to a child’s risk of developing autism, the researchers on both studies found that the mutations appear to converge on a much smaller number of biological functions, like nerve-cell communication or proteins known to cause inherited disability. “In my view, the real importance of these studies is not diagnosis, and it’s not figuring out exactly what percentage of people have de novo mutations, it’s about laying the foundation to transform the understanding of the biological mechanisms of autism,” says Dr. Matthew State, chair of the psychiatry department at University of California, San Francisco and a co-leader of the SSC study, as well as a senior participant on the other study.

State doesn’t believe that the findings will mean that families will one day get their genomes sequenced to spot hundreds of possible mutations. Instead, they could lay the groundwork for discovering how autism develops, and what potential treatments, or even drugs, could help fight it.

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